Our Case of the Month: “ Jacko, the “paper snatcher”
Earlier this month Jacko, a very attractive three-month-old male Aussiedoodle arrived at our clinic. An Aussiedoodle, as you probably already have guessed, is a mix of genes of two breeds, the Australian shepherd and a Standard Poodle. We learned from his proud owners that he was born in Stonefort, Illinois at a professional breeder’s facility and had received his first set of vaccines and preventive deworming on schedule prior to his day of adoption.
It was easy to determine during his physical exam that Jacko was an even-tempered and clever dog in good overall condition. He was a little shy and introverted at first then his playfulness took over and he made us all laugh when he snatched from my hand a page of my physical report and waited for my response!
A snatched paper is not one to cause any harm but certainly illustrates a common and endearing trait of pups that learn about their world and test their capabilities primarily using their mouths for the gathering of information. Most pups consider any object that flutters, rolls, flits, buzzes makes noises or has an unusual smell to be fair game for oral exploration. This can include fingers and pant legs, flying insects, soap bubbles, whatever falls of the dinner table, and rotting dead thing! As with kids this can, at times, be a behavior that leads to disastrous consequences since it takes time for pups to learn of any taste or object that is best for them to avoid to protect themselves from harm.
Mouthing of human fingers is a common behavior in pups Along with being unhygienic and gooey, it is a behavior that must be addressed promptly to avoid persistence of this behavior into the dog’s adult years. In fact, this applies to a pup’s behavior overall since the proverbial idiom “ as the twig is bent so is the tree inclined” certainly applies to dogs as much as it does to humans.
Owners often inquire during routine exam visits if I have some suggestions to offer to help them deal with the exuberant mouthing behavior exhibited by their pup. Occasionally, I have felt motivated to bring up the subject myself after observing punctures on the owner’s arms that look suspiciously like sharp little teeth marks! For these folks, I often need to encourage them to not excuse their pup’s behavior as “ just playing a little rough” or “ just by accident’. For these folks I like to point out to them that sharp little baby teeth are eventually shed and powerful and strong adult teeth will soon take their place!
Often, exuberant mouthing behavior can be controlled verbally if the mouthing is immediately followed by the exclamation of a high-pitched “OWW” followed by withdrawal back of the hand and play interruption. This is actually close to how a pup in a litter communicates their distress to another pup so, after a few lessons pups interpret the response correctly and alter their behavior. Essentially they have to learn that their sharp little teeth can do harm, especially to a human’s unprotected skin. Most pups consider the stopped play session enough punishment to deter them from further finger play.
Another quite effective approach is to provide to the pup a more acceptable object such as a favorite toy or chew object for them to focus on and redirect their mouthing behavior away from the finger play. If these two methods seem to be ineffective, then another approach is to have one’s fingers coated with a distasteful substance such as bitter apple or citronella. If, after a number of training sessions this mouthing behavior continues unabated then a squirt of lemon juice from a plastic lemon container often will do the trick but it is best to try less punishing methods first to avoid weakening your pup’s trust bond to you.
To finish this brief discussion, I would like to refer back to my previous mention of the use of chew objects to help divert a pup’s attention from playing with human fingers. For a large majority of dogs, chew objects can provide an emotional release from the tensions of their day or, more simply, help them occupy their time if they are bored.
When mentioning acceptable chew objects to clients I always like to emphasize that any object can be harmful to a dog’s teeth and it is always best to oversee the condition of the chew object to ensure that it is not developing sharp points or becoming fragmented and presenting a choking risk. A rule of thumb endorsed by veterinary dental specialists is if you wouldn’t feel comfortable hitting your kneecap with an item then it is not safe for your dog to chew on it.
On my “o.k with supervision list” are: Kongs, Greenies, rope toys, rubber balls (be sure that they larger than what your dog could swallow), knotted/rolled rawhides and edible veterinary dental chews. Animal bones, (cooked or raw) are definitely NOT on my acceptable list, neither are sticks, rocks, corncobs or ice cubes.
Like skydiving, allowing your dog to have a chew object unsupervised carries with it a degree of risk. However, if the trade-off is unrelenting barking from boredom or modification of your doorframe or interior decorating if you are away from home, than the risk is probably worth taking.